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Harold Pringle (1877 - 1935):
Physician: physiologist and histologist

Harold Pringle was born on 24 February 1877 in Clones, County Monaghan, son of Henry Pringle, a prosperous local merchant, of Clonboy House, and whose extended family produced several distinguished medical men including Harold’s cousin, Seton Sidney Pringle (1879-1955) who, among other distinctions, was President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (1934-1936). 

Harold entered the University of Dublin, Trinity College (TCD) taking the degrees of BA (1897) and MB, BCh, BAO (1899); there followed his MD (1902).  He became a resident (“house”) surgeon at Mercer’s Hospital in Dublin (1900-1901) and in 1902 he took the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (FRCSI). He returned to his home town of Clones residing in his family home of Clonboy House where, after a short spell in general practice, he decided that his interests lay more with the scientific rather than the clinical branches of medicine and he returned to Dublin where he became Chief Demonstrator in the Physiological Laboratory at TCD working under Professor (later Sir) William Henry Thompson (who was to perish with some 500 fellow passengers when the RMS Leinster was torpedoed in the Irish Sea by the German submarine, UB-123, on 10 October 1918).  

On 9 September 1905 just before his wedding on the 21st, Pringle’s first important paper as leading author was published (“Clinical effects of ether anaesthesia on renal activity”, in the British Medical Journal, with Charles B Maunsell, MB, FRCSI, and his relative Seton Pringle, MB, FRCSI as co-authors. This work caught the eye of Sir Edward Sharpey-Schafer at the University of Edinburgh, and in or about 1906 Pringle and his wife Enid moved to Edinburgh (to 109 Craiglea Drive and later to 45 Grange Road) on his appointment as an assistant to Schafer, subsequently becoming Lecturer in Histology at the University. From there he joined the RAMC during World War I and served in France with the rank of major and was mostly involved with laboratory and pathology matters. 

In 1919 Pringle, on demobilisation, was appointed to be the King’s Professor of the Institutes of Medicine (as this post at TCD was then called), now vacant on the tragic death in 1918 of Sir William Thompson. In 1921, probably not coincidentally, Pringle had his academic and professional support bolstered by election as a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (FRCPI), and the following year, 1922, the situation of the Chair was regularised as simply being the Chair in Physiology, a paper exercise as the King’s Professorship, in whose selection processes the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland had constitutionally a role, was simultaneously discontinued and its duties permanently transferred to the Professor of Physiology, though it was not formally suspended until 1964. 

Pringle, by most accounts, conducted his teaching, administrative duties and his modest researches conscientiously, always showing understanding and courtesy, and was on good terms with his students; while his Faculty colleagues found him thoughtful and reliable, even shrewd, in his dealings with the University and with their own concerns, and he had their confidence when electing him unanimously and repeatedly, as for many years they did, to be their representative on the TCD Board. His research achievements however were another thing altogether.  Though he published these, such as they were, mainly in the reputable Quarterly Journal of Experimental Physiology and collaborated with Kossel at Heidelberg in work on the simpler proteins, his health was never robust and much of his academic potential suffered: in the words of two of his  contemporary colleagues in TCD, authors of the standard academic history of the College, “The department of Physiology showed little life [under Pringle]: Harold Pringle…was a sad come-down from Sir William Thompson, for he was dull, conservative and unproductive” (R. B. McDowell and D. A. Webb, Trinity College Dublin, 1592-1952: An Academic History.  Cambridge University Press, 1982, p.454). Notwithstanding these somewhat variant views, which are not mutually exclusive, Pringle was a hospitable and courteous host, and in his comfortable house of Sandford Grange, Ranelagh, Dublin, his life-style reflected his wide spectrum of interests ranging from golf, horses and travel, to Persian rugs, antique furniture and glass, and all enlivened with cultivated talk, ready wit and exquisite manners. 

In later years, however, family tragedy invaded this tranquil domestic scene: his wife, Enid, whom he had married on 21 September 1905 in Railway Street Presbyterian Church in Lisburn, County Antrim, died in 1933, and their son, Dr. Harold Pringle junior, who showed much promise, followed her in 1934. Harold’s own declining health had forced his complete retirement in the summer of 1935 and he died at his home in Ranelagh on 7 December that year and was buried in his home town of Clones.

Born: 24 February 1877
Died: 7 December 1935
Peter Froggatt
RSJ Clarke: Directory of Ulster Doctors (who qualified before 1801) (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 2013, vol. II, pp. 933-4; Obituary (Harold Pringle, MD, FRCPI, FRCSI, Dublin), British Medical Journal, 21 December, 1935, pp. 1235-6; Obituary (Harold Pringle, MD (Dub), FRCSI, FRCPI, late King’s Professor of the Institute of Medicine and Professor of Physiology, University of Dublin), The Lancet, 14 December 1935, p.1381